Textured Vegetable Protein? No, thanks.

Question: When you think of “vegetable” what images come to mind? Personally, I picture carrots, onions, celery, leafy greens, tomatoes on the vine- that sort of thing. When manufacturers name something veggie or vegetable derived, they know this is the image we conjure up and market their products accordingly. Marketing is all about creating the right image.  Anything marked vegetable is healthy, right? One would think…

Well now, imagine my surprise upon learning that vegetable oil, for example, wasn’t made from the typical garden produce as the picture on the bottle hinted. Vegetable oil is soybean oil.

Yeah, um… I don’t see any pictures of soybeans on those bottles.

Mazola Vegetable Oil

So, considering what we know about vegetable oil I should have suspected the true origin of textured vegetable protein and steered clear, but I didn’t. And we ate it. This matters to me because, a few years ago, a wise healthcare provider suggested that I try cutting soy out of my diet to see if it would help control my raging hormones, since soy effects estrogen levels. It was in taking a closer look at my diet that I realized just how much of that particular vegetable we’d been consuming. The realization briefly made me want to become a soybean farmer because that stuff is in just about everything.

So, soy. I’ve avoid it for the past 3 years and am happier & healthier for it. Most noticeably, my acne has disappeared and stayed away, menstrual cycle became regular, mood swings and depression no longer have me in a stranglehold, and major pit odor is a thing of the past. I love being a girl! Which brings me to my recent use of textured vegetable protein and subsequent elimination of that item from the pantry.  Forever.

Textured-Vegetable-Protein

I was SO exited to find TVP in the bulk foods section of my grocery store and use it to stretch our ground beef.  I re-hydrated the freeze dried granules with hot water or broth and some tomato sauce along with whatever seasonings I liked for each particular dish. After soaking for a few minutes I’d cook it right in the pan with raw meat. The result was a seemless addition that even my husband couldn’t detect which tripled the amount of beef I had cooked. That’s right, instead of one meal from a pound of hamburger we got 3! I loved this stuff.

After two weeks of using it though, I was experiencing some unpleasant things like the return of acne and serious mood swings as well as upset stomach that just wouldn’t go away. So, I finally got around to looking into just what textured vegetable protein is… and was extremely disappointed. According to Bob’s Red Mill, one of the producers of this product,

“Textured Vegetable Protein is made from defatted soy flour that has been cooked under pressure and then dried.”

TVP

Nothing against Bob, I love his products, but that doesn’t sound good. Think about how much that (GMO?) soybean has  to go through to become this little protein packed nugget and the term “highly processed” comes to mind. I should have researched before trying something like this however, part of me just didn’t want to hear anything bad about my new favorite pantry staple. Oh, the shame- I’m guilty of willful ignorance to save a buck!

I haven’t used TVP in a week now and am seeing my unpleasant symptoms steadily decline. I usually use rice to stretch my beef and will continue to use that though would like to also try wheat berries and quinoa as alternatives. What tricks do you use to add extra nutrition and/or stretch the food dollar? I would love to hear some of your creative ideas! Thanks for reading 🙂

 

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DIY Instant Oatmeal

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If you’ve been searching for homemade instant oatmeal recipes, well… there’s a facepalm in your future. As it turns out making your own instant oatmeal packets is even simpler than we’ve anticipated and is in fact, a no-brainer.

There isn’t any recipe to follow or any special ingredients to purchase, unless you really want to go full-on Martha Stewart. Which would be totally fine. For the sake of simplicity, you only need to know that “quick cooking” oatmeal is the stuff to use. Go ahead and pick up a canister of quick oats and turn it around- that’s right, read the instructions.  Ta-da! There’s your “recipe” right there. No need to grind part of your oats into powder or add coffee creamer, just grab some small baggies, your salt shaker, and a measuring cup. For a creamier finished product, simply cook the oats with milk instead of water. Same procedure applies. Is it really this easy? Yup.

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Now observe, the average instant oatmeal packet contains 1/3 cup of oats but the DIY serving is 1/2 cup. Nice, huh? You’re getting a better deal already. Personally though, my own savings wasn’t spectacular. I purchase store brand oatmeal that is already a discount over name brand and find that the comparison per serving price isn’t anything to write home about. On the left you see the DIY and there’s the store bought instant on the right. You get a little more for about a penny less. There are, however, a lot less ingredients in your DIY version.

PicMonkey Collage

I measure out 1/2 C portions into snack size baggies and stuff the ready to use packets back into the canister the oats came in for easy storage. You could dress the canister up pretty and leave it on your kitchen counter like this one found at www.artcraftideas.net. Oatmeal canisters are really handy!

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Cut Yourself Some Slack: Fast Food in the Meal Plan

Frozen Food Aisle

We all know it’s true: a good place to trim the budget is to eliminate eating out but I’m here to testify that being Susie Homemaker is easier said than done. If you find yourself making unplanned trips through the drive-thru each week because making dinner is inconvenient, you’re not alone. A lot of us are trying to find ways to save money and cut out unnecessary spending but there are plenty of reasons why we may find ourselves in line at the nearest fast food place on a weeknight. If you work outside the home it can be tough to find the time each day to fit it all in. Or maybe meal planning isn’t your strong suit then you probably don’t have the necessary ingredients on hand to prepare the meal you’d like to. Feel free to leave your own reason in the comments. Sister Solidarity!

I confess: years ago, when faced with the task of feeding a family, I was often out of inspiration and frustrated by mealtime so we ate at the golden arches at least twice a week. Each day I’d stand at the open fridge trying to come up with dinner on the fly and usually found myself making an unplanned trip the store to pick up extra ingredients in order to make dinner happen. What a hassle! Before I figured out how to plan ahead, shopping would consist of wandering up and down every aisle of the grocery store and throwing anything that inspired me into my cart, followed by going home, putting it all away and forgetting about most of what I’d just purchased.

In recent years I’ve learned that pre-planning our dinners each week gives me a more concrete shopping list to follow and allows me to be better prepared when it’s time to get cooking. I like having a dry erase board on the fridge to list the weekly dinners as a reminder to myself of what I had planned when I went shopping. I also plan at least one fast food night into our week in order to give myself a break. I call this approach “fast food on purpose” because it’s the unplanned dining out that kills the budget.

Fast food on purpose is easy stuff that requires little or no mixing and prep. If you already have such a meal in your pantry or freezer it’s much easier to avoid spending a Wednesday night at the local burger joint. If you like to do make-ahead meals to keep in the freezer then you’ve already got a stash of fast food ready to go. I personally don’t do many make-ahead meals so I like to take a little help from the freezer section of my grocery store. Here is a list of dinner ideas that can be prepared with pre-packaged items and save you from the drive-thru:


  • Entrees:

Chicken Burgers

  Family Pack Chicken Patties

Chimichangas

chimisenchilada sauceshredded_mexican-four-cheese

Fish & Chips

fish stickssteak friescole slaw

Fried Chicken

friedn chicken

Pizza

pizza

Chicken Parmesan with Pasta

ChickenParmagianaBarilla_Spaghetti

Chicken Nuggets

Crispy Chicken Strips

Chili Dogs

hot dog chili

Corn Dogs

corn dogs

Biscuits & Gravy

biscuitssausage gravy


  • Sides: 

Salad kits

caesar saladSouthwest salad

Pre-cut veggies & ranch dressing

veggie tray

frozen onion rings

onion rings

frozen french fries

ore_ida_fries

Macaroni & cheese

mac and cheese

Steamed microwavable veggies

mixed veg

Garlic Bread  

Instant Mashed Potatoes

Instant or microwave rice


This list is just a small sample of some of the options available in your local frozen foods section.  You can also find stir fry and casseroles, even breakfasts, all ready to cook. Planning ahead is the name of the game and even if you don’t have time to cook there are options available to put a good dinner on the table. And even if occasional pre-packaged food isn’t for you, there are options. You can try buying organic frozen foods of doing homemade freezer meals as an alternative. I personally consider this approach the lesser evil when compared with going out for a 99¢ heart attack in a sack. One thing that has helped me reach the goal of eating out less is to avoid pressure to prepare the perfect meal because for me, that’s just asking for trouble. I strive for home cooked and we do alright. 🙂 Happy meal planning!

Oatmeal Cookie Bars

I bake with oatmeal quite a bit. Chiefly because it’s cheap and lasts a long time in the pantry though also for it’s health benefits. During our baby years while there were infants to nurse, I’d eat plenty of oats everyday to help boost my milk supply. Now, I like to feed oatmeal to my kids in their snacks.

This recipe is one I make frequently because it’s quick to throw together and my husband in particular loves it. I adapted itIMG_0359_1 from a Holly Clegg recipe for low fat Oatmeal Cookies, making changes for convenience and our own personal taste preferences. This cookie bar has a creamy, chewy center and crispy exterior. It’s great for dipping in milk or to eat crumbled over ice cream. We also have them as a quick breakfast bar on the go or for a filling snack. I make a batch of these for my family every weekend to keep on hand for the school/work week. To change things up or for a special occasion I’ll add chocolate chips. This can also be made into a birthday cookie by baking into a pizza pan prepared with nonstick baking spray.

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Ingredients

  • 2/3 C oil (I prefer canola, use what you like)
  • 1 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 or 4 t vanilla extract
  • 3 C all purpose flour (or 1 1/2 C whole wheat & 1 1/2 C AP flour)
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 3 cups old fashioned or quick cooking oatmeal

Method

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and prepare a jelly roll pan with parchment paper overlapping the sides. You could also just spray the pan with baking spray but parchment allows for easy removal once the bars are cooked and cooled as well as much easier clean up when it’s time to do those dishes.

Combine the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In your mixing bowl combine the oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and stir until dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Stir in the oats.

Drop by heaping spatula or spoonfuls onto your prepared baking pan, dispersing evenly. This dough is a bit thick & sticky so rather than dropping the whole bowlful into the middle it helps to drop in little bits all over the pan and work the blobs together as evenly as possible. Once you’ve got the cookie dough spread across the pan place into the oven and bake for 18 minutes. Once baked remove to a cooling rack and cool in the pan. If baking with parchment, allow the bars to set a few minutes then you can pull them out by grasping the paper and remove to the cooling rack. Otherwise allow to cool in pan. Once cool, cut into bars and enjoy!

Homemade Fabric Softener!

I’ll admit to being a laundry nerd. Removing tough stains gives me joy and a sense of accomplishment. Caring for my family’s clothing allows it to last as long as possible while ensuring they’re clean and presentable and I find that strangely fulfilling. I’ve even been known to wash other people’s clothes (coats, blankies, kids car seat covers…) when they come to my house because I have have uptight perfectionist issues. It drives me nuts when my husband does a load because he doesn’t do it the way I would. I have to bite my tongue and thank him for his help though I’m dying to just rewash it all. What can I say? I’m a weirdo.

Perhaps the isolation of being a stay at home mom has made me a bit odd and I don’t have much else to keep me busy other than housework. At any rate, laundry is my thing. Also vacuuming- I look forward to getting our carpets clean and fluffy each day. Ah, the thrilling life of the homemaker! Anyhoo…

I’ve been using plain white vinegar as a fabric softener for the past 5 years and can vouch for the fact that it does work. It’s undoubtedly better than using nothing at all, which we did for several months before discovering the vinegar trick. White vinegar is cheap and eliminates static cling as well as build-up in your washer, but it isn’t the same as having luxuriously soft garments and towels like you’d get from Downy or Snuggle.

When I found that there were other alternatives to buying traditional fabric softener I had to try them out. Since this recipe (originally found on Wikihow) has been a success I’m excited to share it with you. This is a cheap and effective alternative to store bought softeners.

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Ingredients

  • 6 Cups (1500 ml) hot water
  • 3 Cups (750 ml) white vinegar
  • 2 Cups (500 ml) hair conditioner

method

In a large pitcher, combine the hot water and conditioner then mix until smooth. I like to use a whisk for this step. Once the conditioner is completely mixed in, add the white vinegar and stir to combine. Transfer to your container (I reuse old vinegar bottles for this) and allow to cool completely before use. I like to let it sit overnight. Measure out 1/4 to 1/2 C of softener for each load of laundry. Administer as you would any other fabric softener, either via Downy ball, by adding before the rinse cycle or placing in your machine’s built-in dispenser. This amount makes about 3/4 of a gallon or 44 loads at a 1/4 cup each.

Your own cost will vary but here is what I spent:

  • 2 gal. of white vinegar for $4.83 (2 gal. makes 10 batches at about 48 cents a piece)
  • 2 12 oz. bottles of hair conditioner at 88 cents each (I used 1 and a half for this recipe, so we’ll say $1.32)

Total for about 88 oz. or 44 loads = $1.80

For the sake of comparison, in the first quarter of 2015, a 50 oz bottle of Snuggle costs about $4 and a 96 oz. bottle is about $7.

The Secret to Easy Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Fact of life: Feeding children is like being a short-order cook in a busy diner. There are orders and special requests coming at you fast and if you’re not prepared, the whole operation can come apart at the seams. Those of us in the kitchen trenches are continually honing our skill set to better manage day-to-day life and meet everyone’s needs in the most efficient and effective way we can. We gather recipes and tips from fellow kitchen warriors and are always searching for ways to improve our craft.

I’ve personally searched for and tried more mac & cheese recipes than I can say including a very tasty baked version that required a good amount of prep and $20 worth of ingredients. It’s delicious and a great one to have for special occasions but perhaps not a realistic choice for my 2 year old at lunchtime. So stove top macaroni is my go-to for a quick, pleasing meal for the kiddos. With efficiency in mind, I always have the ingredients on hand to throw together a batch of mac & cheese, either for quick hearty kid lunch or an easy weeknight dinner. There are A LOT of recipes out there alleging to be the best version and I make no claim to that here. however, the recipe I’ll share- well method really- is one that every home cook should have in their arsenal. It doesn’t involve evaporated milk, mustard powder, or anything fussy. Starting with this method you’ll have your own perfect mac and cheese that will have other Mom’s asking how you do it. Play around and make this your own “Best Mac & Cheese” recipe.

Easy Stovetop Mac

Ingredients

  • 2 C or 8 oz. of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 C dried Macaroni or shells, prepared
  • Seasoning of choice *I use all-purpose seasoning salt and a dash of onion powder, you may want to add some cayenne or a little smoked paprika. Experiment to find the flavors that you like.

Note: You can use any cheese or combination of cheeses you like here, as long as it melts. In order to have a flavorful sauce you’ll want to choose cheese that has a strong flavor which is why I use sharp. It’s okay to use mild or whatever you have on hand though you may need to season your final product a little more to keep it from being bland. No need to run to the store, show-off your homemaker chops by making do with what you have.

cheese sauce

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. My kids like really soft macaroni so I add 2-3 minutes to the cooking time. For the cheese sauce, start by heating the milk. Get it nice and hot but don’t boil it. You can either do this in the microwave or on the stove top. While the milk is heating place your shredded cheese in a bowl and toss it with the corn starch to coat, you could also do this in a baggie. Once the cheese is coated, stir into the hot milk until smooth. Taste and season your sauce to your preference and then stir in the pasta and serve. Make this a dinner by doubling amounts and adding cooked meat, or boiling sliced hot dogs in with the pasta. This would be perfect for Meatless Monday. Add a side of veg for good measure.

Our Daughter’s Diagnosis

Our Little Girl

I’ve had that burning need-to-cry feeling in the tip of my nose for 3 days now and it won’t go away. There just isn’t a time or place that I can have a good cry and so I’m struggling emotionally to spite that fact that I really have no cause. There’s been no tragedy and our daughter’s diagnosis was expected, long awaited even. It’s a relief to have the label of Autism so that I can get her school to offer appropriate services and start therapy. Yet… I’m feeling bummed out and hermit-y. I don’t really want to talk to anybody for fear of a crying jag and also because it hurts to talk about my baby girl and be forced to really think about what Autism means for her. I can’t be bothered to get dressed. Jeans and a bra, how dare you? I just need sweatpants, to snuggle with my dogs and avoid the outside world for a while. It would be so nice to stop being a grownup for a few days.

We’ve been on this road since Stella was a toddler who seemed a bit more temperamental than one would expect. Over the past 4 years we’ve become more and more certain that there was something going on with our little one and have visited the Family Doctor or Pediatrician periodically to ask for help. Real progress came about a year ago when Stella was 5 and I told the Pediatrician point blank: “There has to be something diagnosable going on here. We need to start the process of evaluation whatever that is.” I got a referral to the Seattle Children’s Autism Center but no help immediately because they had a 9 month waiting list. I was already at the end of my rope and now they wanted me to hold? I had no choice so that’s what we did.

7 months later, 2 months before the start of Kindergarten, I was still waiting and becoming more and more nervous about how she would fair when I’d have to send her out into the fray without me, her advocate and the only person who knew how to handle her. So I visited the Pediatrician again, expressing my concern. She referred us to Occupational Therapy while we waited for the evaluation. Even without a diagnosis we could go to therapy and work on her sensory and social issues. I was amazed at how well she responded. They knew how to reach Stella in ways that made sense to her. It was an emotional experience to watch her understand concepts we had struggled with and to see immediate results. This helped my nerves immensely.

I also met with the counselor at her elementary school prior to the first day to let her know that I had a special kid who was, as yet, undiagnosed but who may have trouble in school. I tried to prepare our girl and to smooth the way as much as possible. By the start of school, she was super psyched and I felt as ready as I’d ever be. We’d already waited a year until she was 6 to start school which allowed her more time to mature and was hugely beneficial. What a difference a year makes!

Now, 3 weeks after the start of Kindergarten, we finally have our Autism Evaluation and have been given a provisional diagnosis in just one visit: Autism Spectrum Disorder. They say she has what was previously been referred to as Asperger Syndrome. The diagnosis is provisional because we still have to follow up with a Neurodevelopmental Pediatrician to do further physical tests. So far I’m told that she’s high functioning and that her physical symptoms seem mild.

Diagnosis is a relief in some ways because my husband & I now have credentials to hold up for the people who shake their heads at our concerns. Many believe that the “antics” of difficult or troubled children to be natural childhood behavior and that fussy parents like us just aren’t handling them correctly. This opinion has mostly come from our elders who perhaps take the differences in recent generations’ child-rearing methods as a personal affront. We have the benefit of science and research that simply wasn’t available to them 30, 40 and 50 years ago. So naturally there’s been a little fine-tuning to the task of raising young’ns.

It must seem smug and condescending when today’s new parents hold up our newfangled rules and standards in contrast to the way we were raised. I can only imagine how annoying that must be.  Some naysayers try to tell us that many of these mental disorders didn’t exist 50 years ago (or today for that matter) and that somehow we’ve caused Autism or are just making it up. It’s nice to be able to say, “See? We weren’t kidding and we’re not the lazy, over-indulgent parents you thought.” My Mom calls it vindication, and I’m trying not to see it that way. Diagnosis really isn’t about (well for the most part anyway) saying told ya so and I don’t want to be that person. Advocating for our daughter isn’t about me but today I’m feeling a little self pity. I really need some time to shake off the sudden depression so that I can move ahead with all the energy and enthusiasm needed to keep fighting for her future.

An Open Letter to Moms Complaining About Public Assistance

Delilah making mommy a silly-face
This was taken the month we started collecting food stamps back in 2008. We had no idea what financial strain lay ahead.

To Whom It May Concern:

Your posts on Facebook and Twitter (complaining about the hassles of getting free food) are hard to read because it’s kinda awkward to watch another person make an ass of themselves, even in writing. I hear where you’re coming from and suspect you just don’t know any better. Maybe you were spoiled as a child and are self-centered as a result. Perhaps you’re spoiled still as is evidenced by the fact that you post from your smartphone and spend a sizable chunk of your income on manicures and cigarettes while complaining about your unfair circumstances.

We can all sympathize- to a point- with whatever it is that’s wrong with you which makes you act this way. It’s understandable that you have a character flaw but may not be aware of it. How could you be? Such flaws generally cause a person to believe themselves infallible. Your constant need for attention practically forces you to broadcast all your perceived troubles on Social Media in shameless attempts to garner sympathy and attention. You’re clearly unaware of how your whiny indignation is annoying to those of us living in similar circumstances yet still managing to behave like responsible adults. We’re over here wincing at your loudmouth rants about a system which you benefit from and should be grateful for yet somehow are the opposite of grateful: entitled. You’re a mess of your own making. Please stop. Big girl panties, now.

One can only assume you have no idea how low class and selfish your public complaints make you sound. So, from someone who understands, I want to break it down from one broke Mom to another in the essence of Sisterhood, but mostly because you’re making the rest of us look bad. Oh yes, I’ve been in your shoes and can relate. You’ll find no self righteous condemnation here, my friend.

My husband & I received “Food Stamps” from June 2008 to just this past spring, 2014. We still participate in WIC for our son and each of our three kids are on Government provided health insurance. I’m what some people refer to as a “Welfare Mom”, though we’ve never actually collected Welfare, ever. The recession hit us hard since my husband was, at the time, working in new home construction and we had just bought a home 2 years prior. We fell hard, crashed & burned but learned a lot and are thankful for the wisdom and fortification that hard times gave us. So I have a lot of experience jumping through the hoops involved in benefiting from Public Assistance.

After all the years we’ve collected Foodstamps & WIC, I’ve come to appreciate how much red tape was involved in collecting those benefits. I figured all that free help was worth the hours it took to get someone on the phone-being disconnected over and over- or the hours spent waiting my turn at the DSHS office with two toddlers in tow only to find out I was in the wrong place or that I had the wrong paperwork. I decided to be thankful for what we received even though there were constant mistakes and hassle working against me to take advantage of that much needed help. My attitude was, “This is how I work for it”. After a while I got pretty good at navigating the system and it’s pitfalls.

Reality check: Be thankful. It would be in your interest to stop complaining about the hassles you endure in the process of receiving free assistance. Trust me, people will pay more attention to what you say- a benefit that surely appeals to you- if you sound less like an undeserving ingrate and more like you’re trying to make the best of it. I mean, we get it, but nobody’s impressed by your “hardship” so buck-up. Say thank you to a government employee and mean it. They’re overworked, understaffed and being chewed out by people like you who seem to think they’ve called Amazon Customer Service rather than DSHS. Funding cuts always seem to hit the programs we rely on most and so their job cannot be easy. It’s unfortunate for the un-manicured, unselfish, hardworking folks who are also collecting benefits to be painted with the same brush as you. However, due to that unfortunate character flaw which causes you to behave this way, I suspect this advice will fall on deaf ears. One can only try.

Warmest Wishes,

from Someone Who’s Been There

6 Reasons Moms Dread the First Day of School Too

I love when our kids are on summer break. We can play and explore while not having to watch the clock or stick to a rigid schedule. Another perk: casual dress and messy hair are totally fine. For them I mean. I’m a mess on the daily so more of the same here. Also I don’t have to be strict on bedtime which is nice because… laziness. Yep, summer is legit. Let’s itemize the reasons back to school sucks shall we?

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1. No more sleeping in I like the quiet summer mornings when my kids are sleeping in an hour later. I watch tv or do dishes, while slupring my mocha in peace. Me time, ya dig? And then when they do wake up all they want is to watch a show and stay in their pajamas for a while. This is the polar opposite of mornings during the school year.

2. Handing Them Off to Total Strangers We’re asked to blindly trust the public servants who will have our children at their mercy. Trust that they are competent in their job as educator and not at all abusive or creepy in any way. That’s a tough one to swallow.

3. Breaking the Bank Our school has a uniform policy which will be sorely missed when our daughters start middle school. It’s affordable and it’s an equalizer. But for two years we were in a different district that did not have uniforms and so I can speak from experience here: Having to keep our daughters stylish in order to give the mean kids less fodder isn’t cheap. However we still buy nice new backpacks, shiny light-up shoes, hair accessories that they’re sure to lose… It all adds up so bend over and kiss your cash goodbye.

4. From Playing to Sitting Still All summer long I push the kids outside to run and play and be fit. To get their wiggles out and to breathe fresh air. Recesses today are much shorter than they were when I was in elementary school in the ’80s and, in some places, have been cut out altogether. Educational demands are higher and so things like recess and music are being squeezed out to meet those standards which means our kids are asked to sit still for far longer than is natural and healthy. And with the amount of classwork they bring home there isn’t time to play after school either.

5. Sickness My kids get sick more during the school year than any other time. There are two things which parents who defend sending their sick kids to school like to say that really makes my ass hurt:

“Don’t be a germaphobe! You can’t keep kids from getting sick, they’re all going to get it no matter what you do so why try?” and “If I kept my kids home every time they were sick they’d miss the whole year which is just unrealistic.” 

If this is you, rethink your stance on hand washing and contagion and stuff because you’re doing it wrong. How about I wipe a booger on every one of you awesome people for making my kids miss weeks of school and costing us hundreds in Doctor’s visits & prescriptions each year? Huh? And (And!) for compromising the child that has a suppressed immune system or weak heart who has to swim in that petry dish alongside your snotting, coughing, non-handwashing kid? I would gladly be the finger of justice if it weren’t completely gross to do so. Okay, stepping down off the soap box and moving on…

6. Fundraisers I’m a boxtop clipping FIEND and am more than happy to support the PTA but loathe having to hit up friends & family to shell out money for some cheap (expensive! $12 for wrapping paper? You must be trippin’) stuff that nobody needs just to raise money for I-don’t-know-what. Run-on sentences are my thing, okay? Also, I resent the school using my kids as little salespeople blatantly exploiting their cuteness to make a buck. Sure, for a good cause but still…

My list of complaints is multi-tiered and ultra whiny so I’ve summed it up for you.  No doubt you, The Reader, could add a few to this list or give me a good upbraiding for my crappy attitude. To each his own and all that. Yesterday I saw our girls off on their first day and it went well. They were both so excited to get to school- especially the Kindergartner. I took about 30 or 40 pictures to remember the day by and then followed the bus to school to get more pictures. I keep scrap books as momentos to remember their school years and therefore have to acknowledge that it isn’t all bad. In fact, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be the Mom who celebrates at the bus stop and chugs mimosas with the neighbor ladies out of sheer relief that the kids are finally back to school. Not quite there yet but I’m sure I will be. Someday?

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Stuffed Shells and Stocking Up on Freezer Meals

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I haven’t had a chance to photograph this recipe yet, so how about a random picture of an onion instead? Aren’t vegetables beautiful? So, any-hoo… my husband calls this recipe amazing. I usually get comments like, “Whoa. How do you make this? It’s SO GOOD!” My shells aren’t mushy in texture and hold their shape well. Another mark in their favor is that Stuffed Shells is one of those recipes that makes more than we can possibly eat at once so I always have an extra pan for the freezer. Bonus! Doubling something I’m already cooking is pretty much my approach to building up a stash of freezer meals. There are also a few things I like to cook ahead and freeze for faster meal prep later like:

  • Rice: Next time you make rice, do a double batch. To reheat, just add 2 tablespoons of liquid for each cup of rice; microwave or cook in a saucepan (on the stove) until heated through. Will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • Ground Beef: I buy beef on sale and usually come home with 5 to 10 pounds at a time. The trick is to process the meat ASAP to preserve and get it ready for quick dinners later. I brown some and make burger patties or meatballs out of the rest. See my recipe for ground beef mix here.
  • Tomato Sauce: I like to buy a giant can of peeled, whole tomatoes and make up a bunch of spaghetti sauce for the freezer. On Italian night I go to my freezer for a package of pre-cooked ground beef, a jar of sauce and some Texas Toast. Boil noodles and toss a quick salad and dinner is done in under 30 minutes.
  • Shredded Cheese: Once in a while I get a really good deal on cheese and buy a lot of it. To freeze cheese grate it and package in airtight freezer bags with as little air inside as possible. Whole bricks of cheese will crumble upon thawing but shredding it eliminates that particular issue. Thawed cheese melts just fine so I pull it out to make cheese sauce, top casseroles, quesadillas and even sprinkle on sandwiches.

I don’t have to put aside a special time to do freezer cooking since things like homemade sauce, casseroles or soup can be made in larger quantities with very little added time & effort and stashed for a night when I just really need a break.

Stuffed Shells

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, minced
  • 1 C mayo
  • 3 C shredded cheddar
  • 3 C shredded mozzarella
  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/4 t Salt & 1/2 t pepper
  • 1T Italian seasoning
  • 2 jars of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells

Boil shells according to package instructions. Be sure to salt the water to help reduce sticky pasta. You can also add a little oil. Stir gently & frequently to avoid clumping. Remove shells to a single layer on wax paper. Brown beef with garlic & onion, drain.  In a large glass mixing bowl and microwave 30 seconds to soften. Stir in mayo, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper completely. Then add shredded cheese and ground beef and to create your filling. I skip this step and pull pre-cooked ground beef ready to use from the freezer. Prepare your baking pans with a little sauce to cover the bottom of each. Spoon filling into shells being careful not to over-stuff them, about 1 1/2 T. Arrange shells in your baking dish then ladle sauce to cover and top with more cheese if desired. I like to use a little cheddar on top. Cover with foil, bake 35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

To make ahead: Prepare but don’t bake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap then foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 2 months. Remove the plastic and replace foil to bake- refrigerated 40-50 minutes, frozen 2 hours.